How to Give a Birthday Gift to Jesus

The witness of the faithful Christians in the Middle East is especially moving.

The site of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity
The site of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Jesus has no place to rest His head again. In the midst of what the Grinch called “all the noise, noise, noise, noise,” we might overlook not only the deeper meaning of Christmas, as he did, but also the presence of Christ in the world right now.

In my family, as in many others, we try to give something to Jesus every year for his birthday. Jesus is akin to hobbits in focusing on giving presents to others on His birthday, but we should not forget about honoring Him. When I think of what I can give Him, I think of those He would identify with most.

There are many people who are poor and needy, but right in Jesus’ homeland there are many Christians who are persecuted, poor, and marginalized, who could really use our help. Our Lord was born in the Holy Land, embraced poverty, and became a refugee, which makes me think of our brothers and sisters suffering there with Him today. When we help them, we are giving a gift directly to Jesus: “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40).

One apostolate has helped me to connect with Christians in the Middle East: The Catholic Near East Welfare Association:

Across the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) works in places where poverty, war and displacement shatter innocent lives. As an agency of the Vatican, we provide funds to ensure the Eastern churches and devoted religious sisters — who run clinics, schools, orphanages and other sanctuaries — have enough money to do their vital work. By doing so, we help them assist and protect families, the elderly and the disabled. We support the vocations of future sisters and priests. We fund pastoral programs that strengthen Christian communities. And we’ve been doing it all since 1926.

I have learned so much about Christians in the Middle East and the other areas served by CNEWA through their One Magazine, which I’ve been reading for over twenty years. One provides a great first-hand perspective of the situation on the ground and what is being done to help. Here is a recent example from “A Letter from Iraq”:

Our displacement and exile destroyed our way of life and dramatically altered the structure of our family and how we related to one another. We lost our home, our fields and our income. We had to split up — we could never have afforded to rent a large house to shelter the whole family. . . .

Life was unbearable during our stay in the camp. We had no income and we were completely dependent on charity for every single need. We experienced real destitution and we felt weak, humiliated and alone — strangers in a strange land. Nothing but our faith gave us real support: We felt God’s presence in our daily life, and this gave us hope and determination to hang on for a better life. . . .

Following our return to our homes in a liberated Qaraqosh in September 2017, our joy was mixed with pain and bitterness. Our beloved home was gutted by fire and our fields were destroyed, but yet our joy was unbelievable; we were home! We were back in the home of our forefathers, our pride! . . .

Since our house is uninhabitable, we have rented an apartment. My husband and his brothers have returned to the fields to revive them for planting. As for me, I found a temporary job in the power company and in the evenings I provide tutoring for extra income to help my husband and my family to rebuild our home.

The situation is improving now, and life is returning, but slowly. The return of the churches, of our priests and sisters, and the opening of our schools is encouraging us to have some confidence and hope for a better future. We know tensions swirl all around us, yet our return is the first step for reconciliation and rebuilding. And we wait for the government to be serious about us and to take full responsibility.

With our neighbors, we wait in hope the Lord will revive us just as he did with the people of Israel as they returned from their exile and captivity.

The witness of the faithful Christians in the Middle East is so moving. I’m so grateful for the work of CNEWA and feel grateful to be able to support their mission. Please spread the word about their great work as it should be known more widely.

Please also consider helping our persecuted brothers and sisters this Christmas. Not only will you be helping them in their fight for survival, but you will also be honoring Jesus with a present for His birthday.